U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Dot gov

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.


Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Decision-Making in Sexual Assault Cases: Replication Research on Sexual Violence Case Attrition in the U.S.

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Awardee County
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2012, $1,197,686)

The attrition of sexual assault cases from the criminal justice system has been a concern to victims, practitioners, and researchers for the last forty years. A growing body of research suggests that there is still much that can be done to support victims and to assure that the role of extra-legal factors in case attrition is minimized, however, gaps remain in our knowledge of the processing of these cases. Spohn and Tellis (2012) made a significant contribution to our understanding of the factors that explain sexual violence (SV) case attrition at the policing and prosecutorial stages. Because these findings were specific to agencies in Los Angeles County, there is a need to examine case processing in other jurisdictions to understand more about factors predictive of attrition. A multi-site replication will permit consideration of individual, agency, and community characteristics; victim advocacy; and police and prosecutorial innovations.

The proposed research is a replication of Spohn and Tellis's work in a diverse sample of 6-8 agencies selected using a multi-stage purposive sampling framework focused not only on urban, suburban, and rural jurisdictions but also informed by key police organizational factors, populations served, geographic proximity, and quality of prosecution and police records management systems. This research will rely on a mixed methods approach using quantitative and qualitative data to uncover and interpret patterns in the attrition of sexual assault cases. The research team will closely adhere to the methods and analytic strategies used by Spohn & Tellis and will monitor this adherence closely. The research and analytic strategy will also involve careful attention to the detection of additional factors not examined in the original study which may be significant predictors of case attrition in the new jurisdictions.

This project relies on a team of experienced researchers who bring years of experience in all of the management domains necessary for this work. In addition to the principal investigators Williams, Pattavina, and Morabito and the resources of UMass Lowell we will rely on the cooperative agreement with NIJ and the assistance of the Police Executive Research Forum and the Women's Law Project. In each jurisdiction the research team will track rape and attempted rape cases and document the flow of reports through each stage; analyze detailed case records on a sample of SV cases to understand the dynamics including victim, offender, and case characteristics associated with attrition; and conduct interviews and focus groups with key personnel, victim service providers, and victims themselves.

The study should contribute to the scientific understanding of sexual violence case attrition by providing a reliable replication of the Spohn & Tellis study across multiple sites. With the goal of increasing access to justice for sexual assault victims, the team will attempt to identify best practices within police departments and in cross agency collaborations between police, prosecutors, and victims assistance groups.ca/ncf

Statement of the problem: During the course of our replication study, Decision Making in Sexual Assault Cases, a crucial issue has emerged that affects many jurisdictions- the passage of legislation to address the backlog of forensic evidence in untested sexual assault kits. One state in our study passed a 2013 law that instructs the Division of Criminal Justice to establish standards for exactly what evidence must be submitted for testing. This law fundamentally changed the way that cases are investigated providing a unique opportunity to explore how such legislation is implemented and the affect on case attrition. Little is known about how these new laws affect investigation and attrition in cases of sexual assault.
Goals and objectives: This supplement builds on our current goals, demonstrated capability for data collection, and relationship with police to examine how new protocols for testing backlogged and new kits operate and the impact of these policies and forensic evidence on case outcomes.
Methods and procedures: The supplement focuses on one jurisdiction which has recently implemented new policies for testing forensic evidence in backlogged as well as in new cases. The backlogged cases include those for which we conducted detailed police case record review before the new testing protocol was implemented. The research relies on a mixed methods approach to collect data on:
1. Disposition of all backlogged kits tested and the specific forensic findings; 2. The impact of test results on case attrition for backlogged cases among 1026 cases for which we already collected detailed case characteristics and a recent sample of 300 reports from 2013; 3. The impact of testing on 300 new cases; and 4. The issues that teams implementing the new policies have had to address including victim notification and engagement.
Significance and implications: This project effectively and efficiently builds on our currently funded research and enhances the impact of the study at a cost that is less than if a new project was funded. We have a wealth of information on case characteristics useful for analysis of factors associated with new outcomes arising from completed forensic evidence testing and an opportunity to understand the implementation of new policies on collection, testing and use of forensic medical evidence in sexual assault cases. With the goal of increasing access to justice for sexual assault victims, this work will contribute to development of best practices for testing forensic evidence from these kits. nca/ncf

Date Created: August 30, 2012